At the top of the ballot in the Southampton Town elections coming November 5 are two women with experience as town supervisor—both of whom take credit for uncovering and correcting years of fiscal mismanagement.
The incumbent supervisor, Anna Throne-Holst, is in her fourth year at the helm of the town, and she was a councilwoman for two years prior. The challenger, Linda Kabot, was a councilwoman for six years and then the supervisor for two years before she lost the 2009 election to Throne-Holst.
Each candidate thinks the other is taking her credit for recognizing the town was in financial distress and taking the steps necessary to reverse a mounting crisis.
“She wants to try to besmirch my credibility when it comes to things I did accomplish,” Kabot, a Quogue Republican, said in a recent interview. “When I was supervisor, I did the heavy lifting to get the town back on the track.”
Throne-Holst, a Noyac resident and member of the Independence Party, sees things much differently. “For her to try to rewrite history here is absurd …” Throne-Holst said. “This is a piece of history that simply can’t be rewritten.”
It took no time at all after she was seated on the town board in 2008 to tell that “all was not well in Denmark,” Throne-Holst said. “In six weeks it was very clear to me that our financial management was in disarray.” She said it took Kabot more than six years to reach
the same conclusion.
Among the issues found were that the town’s books reflected projects that were no longer being worked on and grant revenue that never came to fruition, and the police and waste management funds were clearly in deficit, she said. “I had never seen a mess like this before.”
According to Throne-Holst, Town Hall’s financial management office was not staffed with all of the professionals an organization with an $80 million operating budget, $70 million capital budget and 550 employees needs.
Kabot’s comptroller appointee didn’t have adequate experience, Throne-Holst said. “I honestly felt sorry for him. He was like a deer in headlights, with all this unraveling around him.”
Throne-Holst went on to say, “I think it bears noting here that [Kabot] had been a member [of the town board] for six years before being elected supervisor. She said town finances were in disarray under Kabot’s nose for six years and she should have recognized the red flags.
Kabot pointed to her 2007 run for supervisor, in which she challenged the incumbent supervisor, Patrick Heaney, in a Republican primary before winning the general election. She said she ran against a fellow Republican because she questioned the direction the town was headed in. “I had to break ranks with my own party,” she said.
Kabot said that immediately upon being elected supervisor, she set out to fix six years worth of bookkeeping errors, “Enron accounting” and political bookkeeping—“That’s my proudest accomplishment,” she said.
She insisted on airing out the financial issues in public meetings, rather than private executive sessions, despite party leaders telling her she would be damaging the Republican Party, Kabot said.
When she left Town Hall on December 31, 2009 at 9 o’clock, she left in good conscience, she said, adding that less than five weeks later, the credit-rating agency Moody’s lauded her work.
Kabot said if one reads the Moody’s report, plus the state comptroller’s report and S&P analysis of the town’s finances, “you will come to the conclusion that it was the Kabot administration that’s being credited for conservative and transparent financial management.”
But according to Throne-Holst, the town was put on credit watch in 2010 because of Kabot’s borrowing. Now, after her almost four years as supervisor, Throne-Holst said, the town’s borrowing is under control and most of the old debt has been refinanced.
When it comes to present day concerns, the candidates differ on a number of issues that could shape Southampton for years to come.
Kabot said the town needs to up its code enforcement when it comes to overcrowded housing, and it needs to accommodate safe affordable housing, particularly east of the Shinnecock Canal, where there are no apartment buildings and no mobile parks. Appropriate locations would be near business centers like Southampton Village and the Bridgehampton Commons, she said.
When it comes to the proposed affordable housing complex on Sandy Hollow Road in Tuckahoe, Kabot is against it. She said 34 units on 2.5 acres is too much.
The developers obtained permission from the Town Board in 2008—when both Kabot and Throne-Holst were members—for 16 two-bedroom condos, but the project was sidelined when the housing market tanked. Now they are back asking to change the plan to 34 rental units with just one bedroom each.
Throne-Holst said the original project was approved without adequate public hearings and without enough of a public benefit. She said she since pushed through changes to the town’s planned development district (PDD) law to ensure that the public gets its say through better notification of neighbors and a more convenient public hearing schedule.
While many residents have criticized the proposed changes, citing an adverse impact on the neighborhood and school, Throne-Holst said 34 one-bedrooms will have less of an impact on the community than 16 two-bedrooms, because one-bedrooms will often be occupied by a single person while two-bedrooms will have couples with children. Plus, if the units are affordable condos, the town will lose control once they are sold. However, if they are affordable apartments, the town will have purview over the rentals indefinitely.
Throne-Holst said she was asked not to bring the Sandy Hollow proposal to the floor before the election, but she refused to delay the public’s business. “I’m not going to change an agenda to suit a campaign or political path.”
In Hampton Bays, Kabot opposes a proposal to build 40 townhouses on the Shinnecock Canal. The plan is part of a maritime planned development district that includes restoring the historic Canoe Place Inn as a hotel and catering facility. She said building luxury townhouses on the canal would “privatize” the area. “I could not see doing a trade-off of this magnitude in order to preserve the CPI,” she said.
“It will have a transformative impact on Hampton Bays and that area,” Throne-Holst said. She said that she will not be prepared to vote until she is satisfied that the project will deliver enough of a public benefit to justify it. She noted that the developers have requested an adjournment of the next hearing, so that they can make changes and accommodations based on the community’s feedback so far.
Regarding a proposed commercial complex in Tuckahoe on County Road 39, anchored by a King Kullen, Kabot said she recognizes there’s a need for a supermarket, but also has concerns about County Road 39 traffic and safety. “If I’m elected, I have to keep an open mind,” she said.
Throne-Holst said she has already rejected the Tuckahoe supermarket proposal before, and if another iteration of the plan comes before the town board there will be a high level of scrutiny and further market studies.